Increasingly Demanding Mandates Tied to Minimal Funding

In an article for the Detroit Free-Press titled “Tough Choice? EMU Hikes Tuition, Forgoes $1M in State Aid,” David Jesse reports:

“Here’s the choice Eastern Michigan University administrators and board members say they faced as they worked to put together a budget for the upcoming school year–-get $1 million in extra state aid by staying within a tuition cap of 3.2%, or hike tuition by 7.8% and get up to $10 million in additional funds.

“On Tuesday, the Board of Regents delivered its verdict in an unanimous vote. It will cost 7.8% more to go to Eastern next school year than the year before. That’s about $25 a credit hour.”

Later in the article, Jesse notes that, “despite the increase, Eastern’s tuition would remain 13th highest out of 15 Michigan public university if the other universities didn’t go over the tuition cap.” It is a confusing sentence because it seems to suggest that the ranking might end up being higher when, presumably it can only go somewhat lower if the universities with the 14th and 15th highest tuitions also go over the tuition cap.

More specifically, Jesse reports that “in the past five years, Eastern has had tuition increases of 3.2%; 3.75%, 3.95%, 3.65% and zero percent” and that, with the increase, the in-state tuition will be $10,417.

The university’s administrators and board explained that the repeated reductions in state support had created an unsustainable pattern of delayed maintenance on and improvements to the university’s facilities. They made a point of emphasizing that the available university-provided grants to students will be increased by 10.7%, though what that represents in actual dollars or as a percentage of the tuition increase was left ambiguous.

This decision by Eastern Michigan University is indicative of what has been occurring in many states. The state governments have been reducing state support, but, at the same time, they have been tying the reduced funding to increased performance measures. Likewise, they have been shifting the lion’s share of the expense to attend public colleges and universities to the students, but, in response to rising voter concern over escalating student debt, they have imposed tuition caps to mitigate the effects of the reductions in funding. It is an unsustainable political—and in many cases, ideological—strategy. And as the percentage of young adults burdened by student-loan debts, there will be a political backlash because “pocketbook” issues almost always ultimately trump ideological issues.

Prior to the decision made by the leadership at Eastern Michigan University, the administration and board at Wayne State University had rejected performance-based state funding in favor of larger tuition increases, and the administrations and boards at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan will be considering these options in the next several weeks.

As Gordon Gee once quipped, state universities are increasingly being defined as such because they are “state located,” rather than “state-supported.”

David Jesse’s complete article is available at:



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